To say Thigpen and Smith represent a departure from recent UT running backs might be the understatement of the year. Consider the "big backs" the Big Orange has handed the football to in recent years:
- Little Man Stewart (6-1, 220) in 1994
- Jay Graham (6-0, 220) in '95 and '96
- Jamal Lewis (5-11, 235) in '97, 98 and '99
- Travis Henry (5-10, 215) in 2000
- Cedric Houston (5-11, 220) in 2002 and 2003
- Gerald Riggs (6-1, 225) in 2004
- Arian Foster (6-1, 220) in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
The obvious question: Can a scatback thrive in Tennessee's system? Well, Travis Stephens did all right at 5-8 and 190 pounds. He ran for 1,464 yards in 2001, setting a single-season record that still stands. Charlie Garner didn't do too badly at 5-10 and 190 pounds, either. He averaged 7.3 yards per carry in 1993, the best mark by a Vol rusher since Hank Lauricella averaged 7.9 back in 1950. Moreover, Garner stands 11th on the Vols' career rushing list, even though he spent just two years on The Hill after transferring in from junior college.
Given Tennessee's recent fascination with big backs, however, you have to wonder: Why the sudden interest in scatbacks? The answer: New offensive coordinator Dave Clawson. He mentioned several times last spring the possibility of using a "change-of-pace back" in conjunction with Foster. The problem is, the Vols' other backs are of similar size and speed, so they really don't offer much change of anything.
Thigpen will, however. And, if he opts for Orange, Smith will, too.
According to The Miami Herald, Smith plans summer visits to Tennessee, Michigan and Minnesota ... partly because none of his home-state Big Three – Florida, Florida State and Miami – has offered a scholarship to date.
"So it's a little devastating about them overlooking me," Smith told The Herald, ``but I'm all right.''
College football runs in cycles, of course, and it appears the SEC may be hitting a scatback cycle. Two of the league's most dangerous weapons are Florida's Percy Harvin (5-10, 178) and LSU's Trindon Holliday (5-5, 159).
Harvin is the only player in Gator history to post 100 rushing yards AND 100 receiving yards in the same game. As a sophomore last fall he ranked fourth among SEC players in all-purpose yards with 1,380 – totaling 599 rushing and 781 receiving.
Holliday, even smaller and even faster, rushed 53 times for 364 yards and a sparkling 6.9 per-carry average last fall in helping the Tigers win the national title. He also caught a couple of passes and averaged 26.0 yards on kickoff returns, ranking third among SEC players in that category.
Florida and LSU already are vested in the scatback business. From all indications, Tennessee is preparing to join them.